Two of 10 state grants announced April 24 bring more than $841,000 to two UI scientists – Matthew B. Wheeler and Stephen J. Kaufman – for research involving two forms of adult stem cells.
The two projects were among $10 million in grants awarded through the newly created Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute. The IRMI resulted from an executive order by Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and Comptroller Dan Hynes.
Wheeler received $591,322 to work with mesenchymal stem cells that can generate cartilage, bone, muscle, tendon, ligament and fat. They are being pursued for their potential use to replace damaged tissues in humans and animals.
Wheeler – director of the UI transgenic animal facility, an affiliate of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, and professor in the departments of animal sciences, veterinary clinical medicine and bioengineering – will look at porcine mesenchymal stem cells using high-speed robotic systems.
He and colleagues will isolate and characterize the stem cells extracted from subcutaneous adipose tissue and bone marrow of pigs and conduct a systematic comparison of the properties of three of their differentiated descendants: osteoblasts (bone), chondrocytes (cartilage) and adipocytes (fat). They also hope to adapt and validate a high-speed robotic microscale system for adult stem-cell screening/differentiation.
“One of the major issues in stem-cell biology is the ability to culture large numbers of stem cells in an undifferentiated state,” Wheeler said. “Discovering the conditions that enable undifferentiated, and even differentiated, stem-cell culture has been slow and laborious due to the present nature of culture systems. The present proposal is designed to combine existing robotic and fluid-handling technologies with the unique fluid control and microenvironment properties of the microscale to develop culture systems that accurately replicate human and animal stem-cell biology in vitro.”
Kaufman, a professor of cell and structural biology and member of the university’s neuroscience program, – received $250,000 to focus on mesoangioblasts adult stem cells that have the capacity to become skeletal, cardiac and smooth muscle cells, as well as nerve cells. It is hoped that they could be used to repair a variety of diseased tissues, especially for muscle-related diseases and injuries.
“The research we have proposed focuses on the optimization of mesoangioblast stem cell therapy in mouse models of human diseases including Duchenne muscular dystrophy, limb-girdle and congenital muscular dystrophy,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman’s postdoctoral fellows Suzanne E. Berry and Marni D. Boppart will play leading roles in the research. Kaufman’s lab in 1985 discovered a molecule (Alpha 7 integrin) that naturally occurs in healthy muscle tissue. A deficiency exists in several forms of congenital muscular dystrophy; the molecule also appears in abundance in Duchenne MD patients but minus another protein, dystrophin that promotes structural and functional integrity in muscles.
Kaufman has proposed in the past that gene therapy targeting integrin-chain genes could stimulate and help to regulate desired balances of these and other molecules vital to healthy muscles.